GREAT FALLS — Domestic violence is a well-known issue in the state of Montana, and Cascade County is no exception.
Victim-Witness Assistance Services (VWAS) — a non-profit organization that specializes in helping victims of domestic violence in Great Falls — is seeing an increase in calls.
"Domestic violence has been a big issue. We have seen an increase in numbers," said VWAS director Nichole Griffith. "We had 133 domestic violence packets distributed just the last quarter, from October to December."
"Domestic violence is a big portion of our numbers. It is all crimes, and some of it goes unreported. A lot of it goes unreported sometimes, and so the fact that our numbers are increasing, that says something, too," added VWAS Victim Witness Advocate Lacey Bateman.
While laws and regulations regarding domestic violence continue to be developed every year, certain acts of crime remain to be an issue around the community, most notably, the anti-strangulation law, which took effect May 19, 2017.
"Since the strangulation law has come out, we've seen a lot of strangulation cases go through, and I think that it's important to recognize that because that's the higher level of violence when it comes to those domestic violence cases," Bateman explained.
Last year, however, the Montana Legislature approved House Bill 449, requiring judges to order electric monitoring as a condition of release for certain crimes, including strangulation.
"The monitoring absolutely helps to try to ensure some safety for those victims that are going through this, especially the ones that may not be ready to take the steps of obtaining the order of protection for themselves for safety reasons," Bateman said. "That's helped because it's informed and also educated the community."
Experts believe if you see a friend or family member for the first time in a while and they open up about anything that may hint at them being the victim of domestic violence, you should take the opportunity to be a support system.
"We get a lot of calls from friends and family members that are concerned about their loved ones who are in domestic violence situations, I know it can be frustrating when you see someone you care about going through something terrible and you want better for them," Griffith said. "The best thing though is to be patient and try to be a good support system for them because when they're ready, they're going to need you."
About Victim Witness Assistance Services:
VWAS is a nonprofit organization for crime victims in Cascade County. Services include help in applying for an Order of Protection, court case tracking, offender release notification, court accompaniment, emotional support through the criminal justice process, contacting prosecutors on victims' behalf, educating about the criminal justice process, and answering any and all questions along the way.
For more information, click here to visit the VWAS Facebook page, or call 406-315-1111.